Few car brands listen to and follow up on customer feedback like Mazda. After creating the world’s best-selling two-seater sportscar, the legendary MX-5, the very few niggles in early NA and NB models were ironed out in subsequent iterations.
Lights were one gripe drivers had, with low visibility on poorly lit roads being the major complaint. Mazda changed the headlight housings, went with brighter bulbs in the NC car, and added a slew of current lighting tech, including LEDs all-round, in the current ND model.
Factory options for older models were left out, but the huge aftermarket following the car had even from early on means any Mazda parts, including MX5 bulbs, are now easy to find and accessible for all budgets. If you own an older Miata, minor upgrades to lighting assemblies are an easy way to improve motoring safety regardless of weather or where you drive and add a bit of style in the process.
Why Upgrade the Lights on Your Miata?
The NA cars had some interesting new tech for the time, but lights weren’t one of them. Early cars had sealed headlight assemblies, consisting of a single unit housing all components, including the bulbs, reflector and lens assembly.
While generally durable and reliable (rubber seals did a great job against heat, moisture and dust), anything that went wrong (and it did) meant swapping out the whole thing. This meant higher replacement costs, even though sealed units provide reasonable light dispersion. Just for reference, NA cars have standard 7″ sealed units that can be replaced with the standard H13 assemblies or upgraded with halogen or HID lights carrying H4 bulbs for both the low and high beams.
NB cars moved up to more standard H4 bulbs in early models (before 2000) with a two-filament set-up in a single housing doing the honours for both the high and low beams. Subsequent cars got a brightness upgrade with a 9005/9006 bulb combo (essentially HB4s) that made more sense after dropping the pop-up assembly and going with bigger housings incorporated in the front bumpers.
This also allowed for a better spread of light, besides being much brighter. What’s to note is that here too, Miata owners have quite a few upgrade options, with LED conversions fitting the H4 housing bringing the best improvements.
NA upgrades will get you a cooler look. Here buyers have dozens of options, and H13 bulbs in the original lights can be combined with adapters to fit H4 bulbs in newer options. Halo lights with rings encircling the outer housings, variants with distinct low and high beam configurations in single housings, and separate dual headlamps in either circular or rectangular outfits (but still fitting the pop-up assembly) are just some of the stylistic choices.
Buyers can find both halogen MX5 bulbs or LEDs as good substitutes for the sealed originals. When buying, besides aesthetics, focus on build, fit and compatibility. The majority of aftermarket upgrades use cast aluminium housings in different finishes (chromed, powder coated, polished etc), wiring that is H13 compatible (albeit with supplied adapters) and bulbs tweaked for less fatiguing colour temperatures.
Halogens go slightly warmer, while LEDs go with a bright white, ranging between 5000 and 6000 Kelvin. All fit the standard bases and there are no issues with power draw for either beam or source type. LEDs understandably fare better, but still go brighter.
LED replacements are more common in NB cars, as the standard H4 bulbs are much easier to swap out without any major considerations (fitting the stock base) of whether they’ll work with the wiring. Just as a reminder, look for H4-compatible LEDs and you’ll be fine. Similar changes from stock are going with HID conversions.
If you like the bluish tint that Xenon lights give off, then these are what to go for. Compared to stock halogens or sealed lights, you’re also getting a wider light spread with matching projector lenses, more brightness over longer distances, and less hassle with burnt-out bulbs.
They’re also easier on the battery, using about half the wattage of halogens. The only possible downside is that they’re usually a bit more than comparable LEDs, but not as common so could be the choice if you want to stand out.
What Else is on Offer?
Besides headlights, if you’re after a complete look, then go with matching fog lights, front or side indicators, and rear tail light assemblies. OE replacements are good if you want to retain the original look or in parts that have seen a fair share of wear, and damage or are just a bit too tired to work as they should. Most Miata owners though go with aftermarket options, that like comparable headlights, include more durable covers and housings, improved brightness and visibility with upgraded bulbs and compatible wiring.
Tail light assemblies are naturally more complex, integrating brake, reversing and turn indicators in one unit, and will need a bit more consideration in terms of bulb choices and how they work with the car electrics. Other options here include licence plate lights at the back and rear high-level LED light bars that fit in the boot in imported Eunos cars. The same stores sell the required electrics (switchgear, connectors and harnesses) when going with additions that you don’t get in stock, such as rear fog lights.
Choosing What Suits Your Needs
Brightness, colour temperatures, and overall longevity should be your main concerns after you’ve sorted fit, compatibility and positioning. This should improve overall visibility, lower eye strain and fatigue on longer journeys, and prevent blinding oncoming traffic.
Brightness will differ across lighting tech, with LEDs now offering more lumens as with higher-priced HIDs and considerably more than halogen bulbs. Respectable numbers are from 2000 to 4000 effective lumens, and light is dispersed effectively with corresponding lens arrays. Halogens can dip below this number, averaging around 1500 lumens, HIDs hit the sweet spot (3000 lumens) while the newest LEDs can reach over 5000 lumens when equipped with corresponding heat sinks to deal with the high heat. Brightness also impacts price, so choose what suits your driving habits.
Colour temperatures in Kelvin deal with warm, neutral or cool lighting output. This creates a distinct look to the headlights, but more neutral colours are easier on the eyes. Most LEDs can be calibrated for colour temperature besides the natural colours they usually put out, so there’s more variation here than with halogens or HIDs.
Lastly, longevity is all about the quality of the build, the materials used and how all parts work together. Trusted lighting brands do charge extra, but back this up with lasting warranties. Newer and niche brands offer a bit more styling, more attention to features and generally lower prices. What you choose for your Miata is down to personal preference, what looks good, works better than what you had before and what meets your budget.